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in silence. A champion for the national church appeared in the person of the Rev. John White, B. D. fellow of St. John's college, Cambridge, and vicar of Ospring in Kent, who published "Letters to a Gentleman dissenting from the Church of England." In his first letter he asserts the superiority of his own communion to any scheme of dissent; and in the two succeeding ones, assails, with some asperity, those who seceded from it. Dr. Watts does not appear to have taken any notice of his opponent; but Micaiah Towgood, a minister in the West of England, accepted the challenge he gave, and produced "The dissenting Gentleman's Letter to Mr. White." It is foreign to our present purpose to trace the history of this controversy; several pieces appeared on both sides; but the vicar was plainly no match for the Exeter pastor. Though Towgood was one of those who departed from the doctrinal sentiments of the first nonconformists, yet he explains the principles and vindicates the reasons of their secession with great ability; his wit, his acuteness, his pungent reasoning will always please; and his volume is still read with interest, whilst the work of his antagonist has sunk into oblivion.
Dr. Watts, though never in the possession of robust health, was now enjoying an interval of comparative vigour, one of the few bright and sunny periods that mark his often clouded career. Besides engaging in arduous literary employment at home, he was able to attend to his pastoral duties abroad, and the strength with which he was favoured was carefully expended for his people's benefit. He appears to have occupied his pulpit regularly during the year 1731, and in April and December he preached the sermons forming the first part of the "Evangelical Discourses." His indefatigable mind was next employed on the deistical controversy; and in the same year that produced the attempt to rouse the dissenters from their lethargy, his work on "The Strength and Weakness of Human Reason," appeared anonymously.
This important topic is argued at considerable length, in conversation at four conferences, between Logisto, an inquiring deist, Pithander, a Christian, with Sophronius, as moderator. "If," as Dr. Johnson remarks, "the writer is unhappy in coining names expressive of his characters, he manages the discussion with his usual ability and tact." The sufficiency of the light of nature, in the discovery of truth and the search after happiness, was loudly asserted by the philosophical oracles of the time; the volume of inspiration was thrown aside as a complete work of supererogation; and the proper cultivation of the intellectual faculty, maintained to be alone requisite to meet all the exigencies of man. In opposition to these views, the necessity of a divine revelation is ably argued and satisfactorily proved in Watts's treatise; deism is chased through its various subterfuges; and reason shown, from the history of human opinion, to be a weak and erring faculty, utterly inadequate to find out the mind of the Most High, and ascertain the knowledge of his will. We have the page of history, to which the appeal can be made, to ascertain what the unaided powers of the human mind have been able to discover of moral and religious truth. The possession of the greatest talents has been no security from the grossest errors; though endowed with the most transcendant mental qualities, men have still remained perplexed with doubt, involved in uncertainty, and degraded by superstition. Many among the wisest of the ancients made not even the remotest approximation to some of the most important truths recognized now by natural religion; they were deluded with the most trifling fancies; and wasted their "strength" upon "that which profiteth not." And yet the masters of the Grove, the Portico, and the Lyceum, were not inferior in intellectual ability to the mighty names of Cudworth, Clarke, Cumberland, Wilkins, and Wollaston; they had the same natural phenomena to behold, and the same providential administration to reason from; and their
argumentative powers were disciplined by the same processes of mathematical and dialectic science. Modern philosophers indeed, professedly following the same guide, throwing aside the volume of revelation, have pretended to surpass them in moral and religious discovery; but it has not been owing to their superior mental vigour, but because of the intervening communications of divine truth; their best views have emanated from the fountain of scripture; the light that breaks forth in their works is a reflection from the lamp of inspiration. It has been objected to Watts's work, that he has made his deist a feeble reasoner, that he is too soon and too easily convinced by his antagonist, and pays too much deference to the opinions of the moderator; but the arguments of Logisto are carefully selected from the leading writers on the deistical side, and he does not yield the victory to his opponent, but at the point where legitimate controversy ends and sophistical cavil commences.
A production of a different character, the "Philosophical Essays," with the "Scheme of Ontology," was published in June, 1732. Some of these metaphysical disquisitions are evidently founded upon the doctrines of Des Cartes, whose Principia Dr. Watts attentively read whilst a student in the academy. He was in early life a disciple of the fanciful, yet ingenious French philosopher, adopting and expanding his doctrine of spirits, but resigning his system of the material world at the feet of Newton. The reputation of Des Cartes is sullied by the charge of constructing the ground-work of modern scepticism, though certainly undesignedly on his part; but to him the honour in some degree belongs, of pointing out the road to true philosophy by reason and experimenta path which Gassendus, Bacon, and Boyle, soon afterwards so successfully pursued. It has been observed by Mr. Dyer, that Dr. Watts, in his first essay, confounds the idea of space with that of empty space; and does not consider, that though space might be without matter, yet matter being extended,
cannot be without space. In the third essay concerning the origin of our perceptions and ideas, he notices the strange opinion of Malebranche,* whose mystical philosophy it is difficult to understand, that we see all our ideas in God; and explains at length the Cartesian doctrine, which has been embraced by Locke and most modern metaphysicians. This theory supposes, that our ideas originate in sensation and reflection, to which Watts adds, rather needlessly, a third source, viz. abstraction; for as he grants that the materials of the latter are derived from the two former, it cannot properly be reckoned a third primary source. Some writers, as Brown,t maintain that we have all our ideas from sensation; and this must be admitted, if his definition of the word idea is correct, which he supposes a representation of some sensible object laid up in the imagination. The fourth essay is on innate ideas and here the masterly reasoning of Locke is followed, but cautiously guarded, it being granted that there are certain circumstances, in which it is impossible for the mind to avoid receiving certain ideas, and assenting to certain propositions, the necessary consequence of its constitution-a position which Locke himself seems to admit, under the name of innate practical principles. Though an ardent admirer, Dr. Watts was not a servile follower of the great modern philosopher: indeed, one design of the philosophical essays is, to point out his fallacies, correct his mistakes, and guard the unwary against the errors into which they might be led by a blind deference to his authority. In the inquiry, whether the soul always thinks,‡ he takes the affirmative side of the question, in opposition to him; and, by a train of beautiful and conclusive reasoning, confutes a notion which would go far to destroy the lofty distinction between mind and matter. Locke's notion as to the principium inviduationis, that perso
La Recherche de la Verité, lib. iii. part ii. c. vi.
+ Brown's Procedure of the Understanding, p. 55, &c. + Essay 5.
nal identity consists in a continued consciousness of the same actions, and not as Watts defines it, in the same intelligent substance or conscious mind, the same soul united to the same body, is ably combated. But the charm of these philosophemes is, the lessons of practical piety which they inculcate, and the modest spirit in which they are conducted. "Every art," says he, "puzzles my reasonings and baffles all my science." His disquisitions have all of them an important moral; he finds some truth to humble and instruct in his most severe and abstruse inquiries; and culls many a flower from the barren fields of metaphysical speculation. Justly does Dr. Johnson remark, "Whatever he took in hand was, by his incessant solicitude for souls, converted to theology. As piety predominated in his mind, it is diffused over his works: under his direction it may be truly said, theologiæ philosophia ancillatur, philosophy is subservient to evangelical instruction; it is difficult to read a page without learning, or, at least, wishing to be better. The attention is caught by indirect instruction; and he that sat down only to reason, is on a sudden compelled to pray."
On the 2nd of April, 1732, Dr. Watts preached a funeral sermon for Miss Sarah Abney, the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas, who died March 20th, which he wrote out in manuscript, and presented to the sorrowing mother and the two surviving sisters. Of this young lady he gives a high character:-"Religion was her early care, a fear to offend God possessed and governed her thoughts and actions from her childhood, and heavenly things were her youthful choice. She had appeared for some years in the public profession of Christianity, and maintained the practice of godliness in the church and the world; but it began much more early in secret. Her beloved closet and her retiring hours were silent witnesses of her daily converse with God and her Saviour." Among her papers were found recollections of the sermons she had heard, and a journal of her religious